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How to Build a Classroom Compost Bin

Carpenter Nathan Gilbert and landscape contractor Jenn Nawada build a compost bin for an elementary school’s garden project.

Landscape contractor Jenn Nawada and carpenter Nathan Gilbert head to a local school to help them with a composting project. After meeting with the children, Nathan and Jenn build a large compost bin from cedar, allowing the children to fill their garden with rich, nutritious soil.

How to Build a Classroom Compost Bin

A compost bin can help break organic waste into healthy, nutritious soil for growing plants and food. A bin that facilitates the composting process can be a boon to production.

  1. Pick a location and size for the compost bin. Use a tape measure to determine a width, length, and depth that will work for the space.
  2. Draw up a plan. The compost bin should have a lid that lifts for easy filling as well as a removable door to allow turning the material over to accelerate the composting process. Be sure to use rot- and corrosion-resistance materials like cedar and stainless steel screws
  3. Create posts with channels for sliding the front board in and out. For each of the front corners, cut two pieces of 2x6 to the overall height of the bin. Rip one of the 2x6s to 2.5 inches wide on the table saw, leaving the other cut-off side at 3 inches wide. Fastener the 2.5-inch piece in the center of the full-width 2x6, and align the 3-inch-wide piece so that .5 overhangs the edge of the 2.5-inch piece. Repeat this for the other corner as well. Create a third channel post for the middle, but sandwich a 2.5-inch board between two full-width 2x6s to create dual channels.
  4. Build the frame. Cut the 2x6s to length for the back and sides. Butt a side board to the end of one of the backboards and use screws to fasten them together. Repeat on the other end of the long board. Screw the other end of the side boards into the channel posts. Place 4x4s in the back corners and screw through the 2x6s and into the posts. Continue adding boards to the sides and back, using spacers placed between each for a consistent look.
  5. Cut the front panels to fit between the channels. Give the edges a light sanding to ensure they slip through the channels easily. Attach a vertical nailing cleat to the back of the center channel post and to the center of the back boards. Cut 1x6 cedar boards to reach between the front and the back and nail into the side of the nailing cleats.
  6. Finally, cut a piece of plywood to cover the entire compost bin. Cut this sheet in half and attach a piano cleat to both sides, allowing the user to flip open one side at a time for easy filling.

Resources

Jenn and Nathan toured Hosmer Elementary School in Watertown, MA, one of the first net zero elementary schools in Massachusetts.

To build the compost bin, Nathan used cedar lumber in a variety of dimensions, including 2x6” for the slats and the front posts, 4x4” for the back posts, and 1x6” for the center slats. To secure everything in place, Nathan used a combination of exterior-grade brad nails and stainless steel screws.


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